What we have here is a pretty ugly story accusing the University of Tennessee athletics department of inappropriately pressuring officials in charge of campus discipline and exerting undue influence, coming from the university’s former vice chancellor for student life, the office that investigates allegations of student misconduct.
Plenty of denials to go around, of course. Not that they’re particularly fact based.
DiPietro and Cheek told The Tennessean that in the past two years since Rogers’ retirement, UT has improved the student disciplinary process as well as how it reports and handles sexual assaults.
The revelation of Rogers’ 2013 documents alleging interference by the UT athletics department on student discipline comes amid growing scrutiny of the university after several misconduct allegations against football players. At least five players on the 2014 roster have been accused of sexual assault.
In other words, they can report the sexual assaults. They just can’t prevent the sexual assaults.
Then, there are the clever euphemisms.
In a February interview in Memphis, Cheek strongly denied that he or the athletics department inappropriately influenced discipline of student-athletes. Rogers never cited concerns about a specific case involving a student-athlete, Cheek said.
Cheek said he and Hart were at times critical of punishments meted out to student-athletes. Cheek said Rogers’ staff was too punitive and “legalistic” with all students, not just student-athletes, involving some offenses.
Yeah, getting “legalistic” with people who break the law by sexually assaulting others… what are they thinking?
But the best part is importing someone from FSU – FSU! – to run the asylum, er, athletic department and go on to do this: “… the position of athletics director for the first time had been elevated to vice chancellor, giving Hart more power on universitywide issues than previous athletics directors.”
It’s Phil Fulmer’s wet dream. And the results were entirely predictable.
In one incident referenced in Rogers’ documents, Rogers witnessed Hart “shouting at” Jenny Wright, whose primary responsibility was determining discipline in student misconduct cases.
According to Wright, Hart told her that he did not agree with penalties she had given football players. He questioned whether she was harsher on athletes than traditional students and criticized her specifically over the punishment she had given a football player. Wright denied treating athletes differently than other students.
“During our discussion, Mr. Hart stood in front of me, leaned his face toward mine, raised his voice as he spoke and became visibly angry,” Wright told The Tennessean. The confrontation occurred in 2012 in a hallway before a female athletics luncheon. “Vice Chancellor Rogers stood next to us throughout the conversation, and dozens of my colleagues walked past us in the corridor.”
In 2013, Wright found herself in the middle of a public controversy when she was accused of engaging in inappropriate sexual relations with student-athletes. The allegations led to her termination. However, an independent review subsequently commissioned by the university found no evidence to support the allegations against Wright.
The report on Wright included the summary of an interview with Becky Dahl, then an assistant director of programs at UT’s Department of Recreational Sports. Dahl told investigators that in the summer of 2013, Wright had confided in her she was being pressured by the athletics director, “to perform her job in a certain way that she felt was not in the best interest of students” and he “could have caused her to be terminated or reprimanded and she was afraid of him.”
The investigative report also recommended that “the Chancellor should issue a communication to all employees of the Athletics Department that threats against a University employee in an effort to impede the exercise of responsibilities related to student disciplinary actions and compliance matters would be a violation of the University’s Code of Conduct and grounds for disciplinary action, including termination of employment.”
In response to that recommendation, Cheek met with athletics department employees and instructed them not to interfere with student disciplinary cases, according to a university spokeswoman.
I guess the lesson hasn’t stuck yet. But there’s still hope.
“Our first priority is to prevent sexual assaults on campus,” Cheek said. “Any sexual assaults — male-on-female, female-on-male — is unacceptable at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. We have been proactive in developing a new policy and getting input from faculty, staff and students. We put together in the late spring, early summer a task force to have an interim policy in place by August of 2014 so that our students knew about it. We heightened the awareness of sexual assault considerably in our orientation programs.”
Well, maybe not.